Camp Is the Antidote . . .

Posted: March 19, 2013

. . . to overparenting! So says Madeline Levine, PhD, psychologist, author, and keynoter at the recent ACA national conference in Dallas.

Drumroll . . . !

The mother of three “newly minted adults,” all who had life-changing positive experiences after growing up as campers, Levine says dreaming, creating, and play are the lynchpins of a happy, successful adulthood — enter camp!

You see, she explains, a counselor is not invested in the same way as a parent who, understandably, finds it hard to endorse a “successful failure,” which provides the traction for mastery. And yet successful failure is exactly what we encourage at camp, along with an invitation for exploration and collaboration and manageable risk taking.

So maybe we are not only in the business of youth development but in parent development, too! Is it possible that, through the camp experience, parents can discern the benefits of not succumbing to the three mistakes Levine believes comprise overparenting?

  • Don’t do what your child already can do
  • Don’t do what your child can almost do
  • Don’t confuse your needs with those of your child

Think about it — isn’t this what counselors do so well?!

Mea culpa. As a parent, it’s not so easy! But, as a youth development professional, it is so apparent to me. We get caught in the stream of parental frenzy and are swept into the current of too much interference. However, if every child had a camp experience, we might just be able to stem the tide of overzealous parenting — because then all children would benefit from the “try something new” environment of camp and the inevitable outcomes of believing in their own abilities to achieve their goals and picture their successes.

Michael Thompson, author, psychologist, and past ACA board member, likes to ask this question: Think about your own best memories of childhood; did any of them involve your parents?

Didn’t think so! Turns out there are some pivotal developmental skills that we cannot give our own children, such as:

  • Make them happy
  • Give them high self-esteem
  • Make friends for them
  • Be their life “manager” or “coach”
  • Compete with their electronic world
  • Help them stay safe
  • Make them independent

But — camp can, and does, build this resiliency. After all, camp and school are the yin and yang of education: If school is the science of learning, then camp is the art of navigating the sometimes choppy waters of learning and life.

Now, all we have to do is convince all those non-camp people out there — the ones who haven’t had a camp experience and therefore don’t know that “camp gives kids a world of good,” that it builds self-reliance and resourcefulness organically.

The job of parents, Levine concludes, is to help kids know and appreciate themselves. Camp professionals, always responsive to the needs of society, now have the opportunity to leverage the camp/parent partnership, much as we have advocated for the camp/school collaboration.

And so, I propose, we should add “parent development” to our youth development portfolio.

This month's guest blog is from Marla Coleman, a past president of ACA and a spokesperson. She is a founding director of Coleman Country Day Camp on Long Island. She also serves on the board of Roundup River Ranch in Colorado, a SeriousFun camp (formerly Hole-in-the-Wall) for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.


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Well said, If school is the

Well said, If school is the science of learning, then camp is the art of navigating the sometimes choppy waters of learning and life. Its true

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Great points Marla! Enjoyed

Great points Marla! Enjoyed your post and appreciate the perspectives you shared!